The growing conflict between the West and Russia today is not the same as that during the Cold War, Henry Kissinger told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York this week at a symposium marking the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Nevertheless, the former secretary of state, who at 91 remains a strong and influential voice in the foreign policy arena, said, "I am very distressed by the situation that is evolving, which is bringing neither peace to the Ukraine, nor stability to the international system."
Asked if he saw a parallel between Stalin and Putin, Kissinger responded, "Actually, no. . . I don't think Putin believes that the system of government in Russia is inherently incompatible with the system of government in the West. He feels deeply aggrieved by Western actions and he reacts in a manner that Peter the Great would have understood. It's brutal. But I do not think we face the same phenomenon" as the Cold War.
Kissinger, who was also national security adviser to President Richard Nixon, faults the West, in part, for the Ukraine conflict: "The situation that arose. . . evolved over a period of months, in which I think that the Western side did not fully understand the implications of what was brewing, and did not use the opportunities that might have been available to talk about the fundamental problem, which is the long term relationship of Russia to the West."
Nevertheless, he said, the international community cannot "accept the proposition that a country can simply slice off a part of another country. Simply annexing a part of a territory is against the international system as we perceive it."
Russia orchestrated the separation of Crimea, a peninsula that juts into the Black Sea, from Ukraine earlier this year. Western governments accuse Russia of continuing to destabilize eastern Ukraine by supporting separatist groups fighting against Kiev. A few days ago, Ukrainian separatists held elections in the breakaway eastern republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, with pro-Russia leaders scoring "landslide" victories. The Obama administration condemned the elections as illegitimate and said they threatened a fragile ceasefire.
Russia, on the other hand, celebrated the election, calling it an expression of "the will of the people of southeast" Ukraine.
DOUBTS ABOUT SANCTIONS
On the issue of sanctions against Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Kissinger made a distinction with the sanctions on Iran. The increasingly tight sanctions against Iran have been reasonably successful, he said, because the United States was able to rally the entire international community around the effort and because the sanctions targeted the nuclear industry as a whole. The sanctions imposed against Russian individuals surrounding Putin are another matter.
"I am very uneasy about this concept. . ." he said. "It is a bad system for international relations. . . What kind of international system do you have if every country goes around punishing individuals in other countries?. . . I would try to use some other method to make clear our extreme displeasure" to Russia over Ukraine.